Part 3. Praxeological competences of the informal caregiver
Providing informal care for a disabled person is undoubtedly a difficult and exhausting task, which frequently involves frustration and a feeling of helplessness. If you are one of such caregivers, it is worth considering what you can do to improve your work and how to use your mental resources for this purpose.
In this article, we will focus on the issue mentioned above with a particular emphasis on the function and development of emotional intelligence serving as a helpful factor in providing informal care for a person with a disability. Special attention will be paid to the third group of competences, which is the praxeological competences.
Praxeological competences in the work of an informal caregiver of a disabled person
The third and last group of abilities included in emotional intelligence are praxeological competences, which refer to the human attitude towards challenges and difficulties. Unlike intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, they are dependent on individual differences to a larger extent. These include: conscientiousness, motivation and adaptability.
In psychology, we distinguish five superior and basic dimensions of personality thanks to which the character of any person can be described and from which more detailed characteristics are derived. These are:
1) introversion – extraversion,
2) neuroticism – emotional balance,
3) amicability – conflict,
4) conservatism – openness to experience, and finally
5) conscientiousness – disorder.
As it is visible above, the traits related to responsibility and organization constitute one of the fundamental properties of the human personality. It needs to be emphasized that is not necessary for one or the other extreme to manifest in each case. We are dealing here with a continuum, not a dichotomous division, hence it is possible to show different shades of grey in behaviour.
Nevertheless, every human being’s personality traits position themselves rather closer to one of the ends of the spectrum, while the absolute extremes, although they certainly do happen, are relatively rare. The main problem is that the fully formed human character is largely biologically conditioned, which in practice means no less, no more than that no one is able to change the fundamental characteristics of their personality at their own discretion. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as a given person is able to manage his or her life well, in a way that their choices do not clash with who they really are. For example, it is highly inadvisable for an introvert to choose the career of an announcer, just as an extrovert might not want to choose the career path of an archivist.
However, staying on the topic of informal care for a disabled person, one thing should be made clear: such type of care requires effective planning, patience and methodical action. In other words, if you are a conscientious person “by nature”, you already have a better start than someone who has a tendency to be a little less organized, as you are already equipped with the above-mentioned traits and your actions are simply a consequence of this. It is different when spontaneity is your domain. Then, you will probably experience more frustration with the various activities that are involved in caring for a disabled person. If this is the case, you might need to use external tools to help you discipline yourself. In this case, they are very basic but effective, and at the same time they are often underestimated. Of course, we are talking about a piece of paper and a pen. The answer to the problem of under-discipline is simple: if you are not able to get the required amount of organization on your own, you just need to write a schedule and a strict plan of action (preferably with the help of a specialist) and then …just stick to it. This may not sound like real psychological advice, but – as experience has shown many times – the simplest solutions tend to be the most effective ones.
The second element of praxeological competence included in emotional intelligence is motivation, i.e. the ability to gather the energy as well as general enthusiasm needed to perform one’s duties. Unfortunately, we must say it bluntly: being an informal caregiver of a disabled person, it is extremely difficult to have a positive attitude to work. As it has been repeatedly proven in numerous studies, the driving force behind the motivation is the perception of systematic progress resulting from one’s actions and the associated reward in the form of a feeling of satisfaction. It all becomes much more complicated when caring for people with disabilities, as the caregivers are usually well aware of the fact that the health of the disabled person will not improve, and the primary goal of their efforts is merely to slow down the inevitable process as much as possible. It is all the more unpleasant when an elderly, helpless person struggling with dementia needs help. It is, therefore, hard to find a more demotivating situation, and it seems extremely difficult to provide informal caregivers of disabled people with any specific advice that could help them strengthen their motivation to work, because, as it has already been explained, it depends to a large extent on external factors. First of all, it is worth taking care of one’s mental hygiene and making sure one gets enough rest. Lack of enthusiasm and burnout are most pronounced in situations of fatigue. If you can find even a short moment for yourself somewhere between all the duties you are responsible for, use it to regenerate your strength. For this purpose, it is worth using available welfare services. Remember to monitor your mental state on an ongoing basis, paying attention to any potential depressive symptoms. Free tools available on the Internet, such as Beck Depression Scale (BDI), may prove helpful in performing such self-assessments. When you get to the point where you find yourself unable to cope with your problems, do not hesitate to seek the help of a specialist.
The third and last component of praxeological competence included in emotional intelligence is adaptability, i.e. the ability to adapt to new or dynamically changing circumstances. A person with a highly developed trait of adaptability can easily adapt to any situation, gets used to it quickly, does not feel disoriented or overwhelmed by new working conditions, is flexible, easily changes plans and is not afraid to break usual patterns. Therefore, one may be tempted to say that this is a perfect mental property for every caregiver of a disabled person. After all, it seems hardly possible to imagine a more unpredictable occupation. Unfortunately, adaptability is largely conditioned by one’s personality and temperament, which in practice means that it cannot be developed or taught in the way it can be done with some other skills. In other words, there are people who simply dislike surprises, prefer predictability, clear situations and planned action. If you are such a person, then you must use your personality to systematically prepare yourself for chaos. Once again, a piece of paper and a pen will prove very useful to handle this issue. Sit down and think carefully about what kind of unexpected situations may arise while caring for a disabled person, make a list of them, then (preferably with the help of someone you trust) develop different scenarios for action in case they do occur, and finally “practice them in your head”. Take a few moments before falling asleep to think about it. Thanks to this, you will develop a relative readiness for various surprises that you may have to deal with while performing your duties and it will be more difficult to surprise you.
As it is visible, emotional intelligence is a very complex construct, which includes various psychological traits and properties, and, as real life experience shows, turns out to be very useful in caring for a disabled person. Despite the fact that some of the elements of emotional intelligence are determined biologically, it is still worth developing specific skills that could complement them. In any case, you should not be afraid of trying new solutions, using the experience of other caregivers and consulting specialists.
Goleman, D., Jankowski, A. (1997). Inteligencja emocjonalna. Poznań: Media Rodzina.
Goleman, D., Jankowski, A. (1999). Inteligencja emocjonalna w praktyce. Poznań: Media Rodzina.
Krakowski, M., Rydzewski, P. (2004). Inteligencja emocjonalna. Łódź: Imperia S.C.
Sadowska, M., Brachowicz, M. (2008). Struktura inteligencji emocjonalnej. Studia z psychologii w KUL, 15, 65–79.
About the author
Tomasz Zając is a psychologist. He graduated in applied psychology at the Jagiellonian University and doctoral studies at the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University. He is preparing to defend his PhD dissertation on individual differences in the context of aggression and violence. For years, he has been cooperating with various institutions specializing in rehabilitation, helping people with disabilities and palliative care. He conducts individual consultations and Support Groups for informal caregivers at the KRAKÓW GRZEGÓRZKI Informal Caregivers Support Centre, operating at the Fundacja Małopolska Izba Samorządowa in Krakow at 16, Ignacego Daszyńszkiego Ave.
This publication has been carried out under the HomeCare for Dependent Elderly People Educational Path for Informal Caregivers, 2019-1-PL01-KA204-065703
|The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.|